Arizonans Experience Mars On Earth

August 16, 2013

This week, two Arizonans returned from Mars – or the closest thing to it on Earth.

Oleg walking The six participants in the Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation Habitat spent four months living together in a small dome - and could only leave the space for brief periods if they wore mock spacesuits. Above, scientist Oleg Abramov does rounds outside the dome. Abramov works with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff. (Photo courtesy of Angelo Vermeulen)

A professor from Phoenix and a scientist from Flagstaff were in a six-person crew that spent four months confined to a small dome in Hawaii. Their project looked at the best way to feed explorers on the Red Planet.

Officially, it was named the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation Habitat, but for its crew the 900-square-foot dome at an abandoned rock quarry was home since April. The group filled their days with various scientific experiments and taste tests between instant and prepared meals.

dome The dome was located at an abandoned mine quarry on the island of Hawaii. The spot was chosen for its remoteness - and general resemblance to Mars. (Photo courtesy of Yajaira Sierra)

Oleg Abramov is a space scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff. If he left the dome, it was in a heavy, mock spacesuit. Abramov said he did not realize how much comfort he took in the predictability of the dome.

“Now that I’m out, I am a little bit overwhelmed with all the things that are happening in the quote-unquote real world,” Abramov said via phone. “And most of those things of course, are completely outside of my control.”

Abramov does not miss a few of the food choices. He said that some of the instant meals were especially bad, like one chicken dish with a slimy texture and metallic flavor. Others, like powered eggs and something he calls “chicken-ish” bits, were pleasant surprises.

Fellow crew member Sian Proctor, a professor at South Mountain Community College, was shocked by how much she liked one ingredient, Spam. Proctor said the crew made several tasty meals with the canned meat, like Spam-fried rice and even sushi, but Proctor said what she will really remember is how connected she became to her crewmembers. In her words, they became a “family."

dome Abramov became known for his baked goods. He says that many non-perishable ingredients (like powered eggs) worked surprisingly well in these goodies. In savory dishes, Spam ended up being another surprisingly popular ingredient. (Photo courtesy of Sian Proctor)

“We were very close,” Proctor said. “And it was funny because when we got out, the first thing they did was they had a buffet for us outside, but instead of spreading out, we all huddled around the same small table and ate together, because we were so used to being together in such a closed, small space.”

Proctor and Abramov are still in Hawaii, but they are now officially on vacation.














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